June 17, 2012

Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P5

Human sacrifice, if it can be called such, at the death of the divine king is an age-old custom which in Africa has persisted almost to this day. Less than a century ago, a hundred men and women would accompany the king of the Ashanti on his journey from this world into the next. As soon as the king had died the queen mother, the most important person in the state, would send messengers to a number of harem women to tell them that the time had come for them to go with their husband. The ladies would, first of all, take leave of their relatives. Then, decked in white robes and adorned with all their jewellery, they attended a solemn banquet at which they would freely partake of palm wine and rum until they were unconscious. When this stage had been reached, women executioners entered and strangled the widows with leather thongs. Court officials and other dignitaries also would choose a voluntary death, but the same was evidently not true for servants or slaves who had to be dispatched forcibly. This fear of sacrificial death has remained deeply ingrained and when in 1970 King Prempeh 11 of the Ashanti died, none of our servants at the university could be induced to go out after nightfall. The streets of Kumasi, the Ashanti capital, were deserted and finally the local newspaper had to announce in a banner headline : ‘No deaths reported in Ashanti in connection with the funeral of the Asantehene’.

Ancient Egyptian Pyramid
These facts are mentioned because in this and other aspects, to be referred to later, a curious similarity exists between the habits and customs of the Akan tribes of today with those of Ancient Egypt. The Ashanti migrated into West Africa only a few centuries ago. Until then they had lived in the Sudan, the only place in which the traditions of ancient Egypt had been preserved intact until about fifteen hundred years ago. When in 660 BC the pharaoh Tanuatamun had to flee before the invading Assyrians, he turned south to the Egyptian Sudan, whence his forefathers had come. His successors continued the migration and eventually established their capital at Meroe, above the mouth of the Atbara. There they re-created a pharaonic court with Egyptian customs, which went as far as the building of small pyramids for their burials, until they were dispersed by the Abyssinians. Their heritage, a mixture of Egyptian tradition and African customs, including human sacrifice has lived on, almost to the present day, in the tribal life of the Sudan. A village society in virtual isolation tends to keep its cultural pattern largely unchanged in its basic character for a very long time. A village cemetery, recently excavated, showed an unbroken series of funeral gifts from Egyptian amulets to modern Manchester trash. It is, of course, dangerous to rely too much on this similarity between African customs which have been retained to this day and a civilisation that flourished thousands of years ago. On the other hand it is equally unrealistic to disregard completely the undoubtedly existing parallels. If nothing else, we can look upon some of the customs and beliefs which have survived in Africa as a possible pointer to the thoughts and motives of the people of Ancient Egypt which have been lost to us. When later in this chapter we return to this similarity it will always be with the proviso that much of it must remain conjecture.

The custom of human sacrifice seems to have been abolished in Egypt in early dynastic times. When the Pyramid Age is reached, no traces of it were left. Even the ritual killing of the divine king when he had lost his virility had by then been replaced by a ceremonial renewal of his powers in the Sed festival which soon assumed the character of a regnal jubilee. Courtiers and relatives continued to be accorded the privilege of being laid to rest close to the pharaoh’s sepulchre and their tombs stand in neat long rows by the sides of the pyramids at Giza. However, they no longer had to accompany the god immediately and instead occupied their eternal houses in their own good time.

Since we will be mainly concerned with the design, construction and function of the pyramids, the royal tombs of the first two dynasties which precede them are of particular interest. Menes, to seal the act of unification of the two lands, is credited with having founded the capital of his new realm. He chose the place at which Upper and Lower Egypt meet, at the apex of the Delta where the long narrow Nile valley fans out into the fertile plain of accumulated silt. He is said to have diverted the course of the river in order to gain space for the new city which he called White Walls, indicating that originally the capital was also a fortress. To us the city is known by its Greek name of Memphis. It remained the seat of the pharaonic government, with short interruptions, for one and a half millennia. In the early Middle Ages, four thousand years after its foundation, Memphis was still a magnificent city but from then onward its importance declined at the expense of the Arab town of Cairo, 20 miles to the north.

Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids :
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P1
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P2
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P3
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P4
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P5
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P6
Prelude To The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids P7

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